Thursday, May 21, 2009

What it takes to rally the troops these days

Typically, you take what political leaders say when they're "rallying their troops" with a grain of salt, the over the top rhetoric is to be expected. When media takes the words beyond the room, however, you know it's also meant for public consumption and so it warrants being addressed. There were the usual exaggerations, to be kind, in Mr. Harper's speech last night to Conservatives, principally in his characterizations of Mr. Ignatieff. Leaving them aside though, this was the part that needs a little tweaking due to its boldness in trying to rewrite recent history:
"Remember, we were re-elected in the midst of one of the biggest financial crises in the history of the United States. We were not elected in spite of the crisis but because of it because the Canadian people know no other party is even serious when it comes to managing the economy," he said.

"And we've delivered on the merchandise."(emphasis added)
It's more realistic to say that the Conservatives were re-elected because the full effects of the financial crisis had yet to manifest themselves in Canada at the mid-October point. That the Conservatives got in under the wire before the real crisis could be felt by Canadians. Before their deficit could be discovered by Canadians. Recall the job numbers in September, for example, announced just prior to the October election that created the impression that Canada was OK: "Record job creation keeps unemployment rate steady." And recall Mr. Harper's own words at the time, in his own advertising, that the Canadian economic "fundamentals are strong." He also famously promised no deficits and bragged about his government's stewardship. Now his revisionist view is that he was re-elected in the midst of a crisis and because of it.

The results of the economic crisis have come since the election. There have been record job losses: "...overall employment has fallen by 321,000 since the peak in October 2008." Unemployment is at its highest level in seven years. "Canadians will declare personal bankruptcy in record numbers this year and into 2010, according to a new study by the Toronto-Dominion Bank released Friday." Those are the kinds of statistics that Mr. Harper avoided having to run on in choosing his October election date. A recent poll showed, in fact, that while the Conservatives may have enjoyed an advantage on economic issues in the last few years and leading up to the last election, they've become vulnerable on that front, for good reason. Would they be re-elected today because of their economic stewardship? Highly unlikely.

As for the Conservatives being "serious" about the economy to the exclusion of all others - events in November with the partisan fall economic update, its aftermath through December and up to the end of the prorogation at the end of January would suggest otherwise. As would the politicized infrastructure spending dating from 2007. As would the underfunding and muzzling of the Parliamentary Budget Office. A government that is "serious" about managing the economy would prioritize funding for such a useful institution in these economic times.

Throw in the rest of the little Conservative distractions that have piled up since the election: gun registry rhetoric, banning George Galloway, picking fights with Russia, the Ruby Dhalla domestic inquiry, the Brian Mulroney Conservative party membership games, the incessant juvenile rants on the floor of the House of Commons, and now, Conservative attack ads polluting the airwaves, and what you have is a picture of a government that is anything but serious. Their actions on big issues like the environment and the auto industry have been characterized by a wait and see approach, hedging behind whatever the Americans do.

As for Conservatives delivering on the "merchandise," see statistics above. And they're not doing much better on infrastructure stimulus. Minister Baird admitted in a Commons committee last week that little of the $4 billion in stimulus infrastructure spending has gotten out the door. When it does, their track record provides little cause for confidence.

Looking forward to an election on the real Harper economic record. Despite Mr. Harper's efforts last night, we know the Conservatives sure aren't.